The first annual Florida Permaculture Convergence took place from Friday, January 11th through Sunday, January 13th, 2013 at Wallaby Ranch in Davenport, Florida, near Orlando. The idea to create the convergence emerged from a meeting at an edible forest garden design intensive taught by Eric Toensmeier in April 2012 in South Florida. The course, hosted by Earth Learning (earth-learning.org) attracted designers from all over Florida to learn and to also help design the twelve acre food forest at The Farm at Verde Gardens in Homestead. Tia Meer (Orlando), Sheryl Dutton (Homestead), Natasha Motesharei (Tampa) and Jason Long (Homestead) were the core organizers. The team grew and there was input from noted permaculturists throughout the State. It was decided to get together to learn about the permaculture developments in all the bioregions of Florida, and to figure out where we are going next. We ended up with close to two hundred people gathering, including respected educators Koreen Brennan, Ken Benway, Christie Abbot, Marcus Thomson, and Richard Powell.
Naturally, in designing the convergence, we first designed a way to take care of our own shit. Jungle Jay (Tampa area) – who reminded us that we need no longer defecate in clean water and use trees to wipe ourselves – was one of the first at the site, early on Friday, and he – along with volunteers – constructed the compost toilet area. The second thing we did, of course, was set up the community kitchen. This was created and tended efficiently, tirelessly and lovingly by Joe Pierce (www.mosswoodfarmstore.com, near Gainesville) and helpers. There were home-made biochar stoves. As kitchen areas tend to do, it became a gathering area. People arrived throughout the afternoon and early evening on Friday. After nightfall, entry to the ranch was closed and we settled in, distributed information about the weekend, socialized and shared food. There was a fire and some music… The fire area became the daily meeting area…
Saturday morning, after I facilitated a gathering to share our intentions and desires for the weekend, permaculture teachers Tia Meer (www.simplelivinginstitute.org), Orlando, and Ken Benway (thepermacultureguild.com) spearheaded a discussion about what’s going on in Florida, in the various bioregions of our large, long and diverse State. First, naturalist and artist John Dame Jr. made us conscious of where we were holding space. The Palatlakaha River watershed is a huge basin, encompassing almost a quarter of the peninsula, right in the center of the land, and we were in the center of that basin. It recharges the Florida aquifer underground – our primary source of drinking water – close to the land surface in this area. The Green Swamp, on the plateau above, acts like a pressure head for the aquifer, and this area forms the headwaters of four major rivers. We indeed were meeting at a central source.
A lot of energy began to be unleashed as designers, builders, farmers, engineers, artists, educators, organizers, students, people of all ages and walks of life, shared information and connected. We first grouped into our own regions to share information. Then we got back into the bigger group. Developments were pinned on a watershed map, fortunately too many to mention here! Existing and forming farms, co-ops, gardens, permaculture educators, books, video, villages, permaculture education centers, markets, towns and so forth were identified (the information is being coordinated and will be available soon….) Once we started, you couldn’t stop us! Eventually, we did pause for a lunch break.
After lunch, while there was a garden activity, further discussion ensued after Don Hall of Transition Sarasota taught us the basics of conducting Open Space meetings (www.openspaceworld.org) where those who are there determine the agenda and coordinate with each other to break into groups to discuss the agenda items. There are few rules to open space technology – used in board rooms and permaculture/transition cultures alike – but they are crucial. For example, if you suggest an idea, it is because you are going to take responsibility for following through on it. And, if you think you would learn, teach or enjoy a different discussion elsewhere – or need to just lie on the ground and stare up at the sky – use the Law of Two Feet to move yourself to a more appropriate niche. So this was another moment when energy, excitement and creativity were flowing and it wasn’t easy to stop the momentum! In the group I was in, we talked about creating societies, villages, and dealing with relationships, and sense of place.
Then we had an incredible plant and seed swap, comprising all manner of edibles, medicinals, soil enriching and beautiful species, such as Moringa, the “miracle” tree that can grow down here in at least the central and southern parts. People are still talking about the plant swap. Eventually it was time for dinner and gathering….. and another night relaxing…. Gathering around a fire, playing music, connecting…. A little dancing ensued…
On Sunday, Koreen Brennan (Grow Permaculture – Clearwater) facilitated the discussion on “What’s next in setting up a Florida permaculture web?” We are conceptualizing the self-organizing of permaculturists and products – meta-design – patterned after nature, of course: local, regional hubs, groups of connections, like guilds, and hopefully, eventually – sooner rather than later – multilayered elements, functions and relationships, spreading far and wide…. After lunch, we gathered again for some closing discussion and outlines for continuity, took photos, did a closing circle, and packed up and left, truly inspired and awed. Can’t wait to see what we grow!
Coral Springs, Florida